Lots of companies are pouring resources into teaching cars to see the world around them. Now a startup called Strap Technologies is developing a wearable pod that uses some of the same kinds of sensors used by autonomous vehicles—radar, lidar, ultrasonic—to give blind people a clearer sense of their surroundings.
“Each sensor has a different resolution, has a different threshold,” said founder and CEO Diego Roel in a Zoom conversation last week in which he showed off a preproduction Strap. “We use the best of each sensor and we combine them.”
Strap’s chest-worn device weighs less than half a pound and is scheduled to go on sale next summer for $750. (It’s currently available for $500 on preorder.) It calculates the proximity of such hazards as walls, steps, nearby people, and bumps in a sidewalk. Then it conveys this information to the user via haptic feedback—its four straps vibrating according to a grammar that users have to learn.
“The pattern and the strength of this means where is the obstacle, how to avoid it, and how far away it is,” Roel says, adding that the two most expensive components are the device’s radar sensors and microcontrollers. He notes that the device is designed to run for 72 hours on a single charge.
Strap began work on its device about three years ago. “We underestimated the technology complexity we needed to [make] this device,” Roel says of the journey since. There are some 250 people currently testing the device, which has already drawn 200 preorders. Strap needs to refine the design to ready it for mass manufacturing.